Monday, June 30, 2008

Using Evernote Mobile in the real world

Earlier today I had a car accident (details here, if you want ‘em). Never one to let a notemarking opportunity go by, I snapped some photos with my BlackJack II cell phone and the Evernote Windows Mobile app.

The photos are now available in my public Evernote note stream. I’ve shared the notebook widget below…

As I’ve already said, the Evernote mobile client is seriously impressive. Any text or photo notes you take can be automatically uploaded to an instant mobile blog. You can also upload voice memos. And all of it can be synced with Evernote’s web app and desktop client. While I still prefer Google Notebook for web clippings, I don’t think there’s any simpler method for creating a multimedia mo-blog than using Evernote.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Has Firefox 3 made Del.icio.us unnecessary?

Maybe.

Today, Lifehacker covered a new utility called del.icio.us to Firefox that merges your Firefox and Delicious bookmarks together, so that you can take full advantage of the so-called Awesome Bar in Firefox 3. Hacker’s Adam Pash suggests that once you’ve combined all your bookmarks into Firefox’s outstanding new bookmark manager and address bar, “you may not even need del.icio.us anymore. (unless you’re into the social aspect).”

The same thought has dimly occurred to me, as well. But I had stubbornly put it out of my mind because I absolutely love the Delicious Bookmarks plug-in. When it was released in 2007, it changed the way I used Firefox and it renewed my love for the only social bookmarking service I had ever used.

But the more I use Firefox 3, I’m noticing that I’ve stopped clicking the bookmarks in the Delicious Toolbar or searching in the side bar. Instead, I’m using the Awesome Bar to get around the Web more and more. Why? Because it finds the pages I’ve browsed recently without having to bookmark a thing. But suppose I want to bookmark something? Firefox has got my back. I can click the star to save a link. If I want, I can add tags and comments, too.

“Wait,” I say to myself, “Delicious Bookmarks syncs your bookmarks across machines and makes them available on the Web. Firefox doesn’t do that.” True. For that you need the Foxmarks add-on, an elegant utility that recently got itself compatible with Firefox 3.

It’s getting spooky in here for the Del.icio.us fanboy. Let’s take a detailed, side-by-side look at Firefox 3 and Delicious Bookmarks.


go to the table!

The Delicious Bookmarks add-on made social bookmarking useful and easy. The high degree of integration with Firefox suddenly made all your shared bookmarks quickly accessible within your browser, where you needed them the most.

Now, Firefox 3 includes a powerful bookmarking system and Awesome Bar that rivals, and perhaps surpasses, the revolutionary Del.icio.us add-on. And since other approaches to bookmarking are arguably more social than Delicious (e.g., Diigo, StumbleUpon, Yoono), Firefox's bookmarking improvements mean that you may not be locked into Delicious anymore.

Maybe.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Evernote’s new and improved bookmarklet

On the heels of their impressive Grand Opening, the Evernote Blog is spotlighting their bookmarklet designed to quickly capture entire pages and sync them across Evernote’s desktop, web, and mobile platforms.  In their post and embedded video, Evernote suggests that it may well the be the elusive hybrid: both a notebook and bookmarking service.

What’s the toughest thing to remember? For me, it’s websites. Everyday, I visit tons of sites: blogs, shopping, news, recipes, and travel. It’s too much. I’ve actually stopped bookmarking because it’s so hard to find anything in the sea of links, and when I do go back, the page is often gone or changed. Since Evernote is a single place for all of your memories, (websites you visit are memories too, you know) we thought we could do better.

Introducing, the new Evernote Web Clipper, which gives you the ease and simplicity of bookmarking, but more importantly, also gives you context by saving the text, images, and links, including the source URL, right into your Evernote account. Once the page, or part of a page, is saved into your account, you can tag, organize, search, browse, edit, and remember it forever.

Evernote touts the bookmarklet as a way to archive complete pages for future reference. But in my testing, that didn’t hold up. The bookmarklet worked great for clipping bits of text and pictures. However, on quite a few sites I got an error message if I wanted to save the entire page. On other sites, I was able to clip the entire page. The behavior wasn’t predictable, though. Is there a character limit? An image limit? Does it depend on the site? Or is the raw size an issue?

image

Really, I don’t mind there being a few limits to the feature. But it’s annoying to not know what those limits are. Visiting Evernote support doesn’t really help:

If the Evernote Universal Clipper cannot clip the contents of the document you need, an alert will be shown. Try adding the content as a screenshot as described under Adding Screenshots below.

Basically, if you’re on the Desktop you can add a screenshot. Okay, I guess. It’s bizarre to me that they aren’t a bit more transparent about the limits of the bookmarklet.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Google Notebook: Size Does Matter

Amazingly, I started this blog without being a subscriber to the Official Google Notebook Blog. I am seriously an amateur. I’ve now rectified that situation. Blogs for both Google Notebook and Evernote are now in my sidebar as well.

I just wrote a glowing review of Evernote, calling their public beta the “most impressive launch I’ve ever seen.” But I faulted Evernote for, among other things, the limited functionality of their Firefox add-on / web clipper. That’s definitely one area in which Google Notebook’s got their number.

A few days ago, Google Notebook added a nifty feature to their Firefox addon I didn’t even know I wanted: the ability to re-size the clipper window. Team member Nadav Savio explained the change.

[The] Google Notebook browser extension has always felt a bit cramped. It's small enough to leave open while I'm surfing and add new stuff, but not really big enough to easily view my existing notes. So you can imagine my pleasure that the latest release includes the ability to choose a size for the mini notebook! Now when I open up a recipe in my recipes notebook, it's big enough for me to follow along (no more imperfectly boiled eggs for this designer!).

 image

This kind of flexibility is another reason I may still prefer using Google Notebook to Evernote, despite the latter’s impressive arsenal of features. I may yet switch to Evernote, but for now I’ll stay put.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Evernote: Can it be your everything, all the time?

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Yesterday Evernote launched its public beta, finally allowing everyone to access their Web-based service and releasing updated versions of their desktop client for Mac and Windows. Evernote aims to be your one and only electronic notebook no matter where you are (web, desktop, or mobile) or what you’re doing (copying text, taking photos, scanning images, recording voice). It’s an ambitious goal, but I think they’ve done it.  Will they become my primary notebook? The jury, as they say, is out on that one.

Ars Technica has extensively and enthusiastically covered Evernote since the Web-based service launched in private beta. Rather than repeat what Ars has ably done, I’d rather focus on my experience with the service and mention to you a few things Ars skips.

A gazillion features

First, I want to emphasize Evernote’s impressive list of features.

  • Cross platform desktop software for Mac and Windows
  • Robust support for mobile phones, including a free Windows Mobile client and iPhone-optimized interface
  • Quick, seamless synchronization between web and the desktop
  • Sophisticated Web interface that nearly matches desktop client
  • Powerful ink mode that can recognize text and shapes as you draw*
  • Support for multiple notebooks, with the option to publish one or more to the Web (here’s mine).
  • Web clips using either bookmarklet or Firefox add-on (available only with desktop client)
  • Ability to send notes directly to Evernote using a unique email address
  • Instant search that can recognize text within images
  • Sort by either tag or attribute
  • Drag-n-drop both notes and tags
  • Saved searches (a.k.a., smart folders)
  • View notes in side-bar timeline*
  • Encryption for selected text within a note
  • Geo-location tags viewable in Google Earth
  • Long list of keyboard shortcuts*
  • Easy and intuitive to-do lists*
  • Import wizard for Microsoft’s OneNote
  • Embeddable widget

*desktop only

The sheer breadth of what the developers have accomplished here is daunting. Even more impressive is the overall fit and polish. I’ve not spent a lot of time with Evernote, but I have yet to find a single bug or encounter anything that didn’t work as expected.

imageBest mobile notebook ever?

I’m especially impressed with the Windows Mobile app. Evernote has taken features that might form the basis for an entire start-up (e.g., ShoZu), and turned them into a flawless feature. With my Samsung BlackJack II, I can quickly enter text notes, take photos, or record voice notes, and everything is easily uploaded using the hassle-free interface. I can also quickly access and search all my notes. If you’re on a stingy wireless plan, connect with USB and import your notes with the Mobile Import wizard. Sure, OneNote has a mobile app, and Google Notebook is mobile-friendly, but Evernote is unequivocally the best notebook for your mobile phone.

Photo courtesy of O’Reilly Digital Media.

Full-featured basic account

As Ars noted, Evernote offers a pro account, but the free version gives you access to nearly all the features.

The only limit now imposed on free Evernote accounts is a monthly upload quota of 40MB. There is no limit on the total storage space or the amount of information accessed each month; just on how much you upload. This 40MB limit should be plenty of room to snip PDFs from websites, images you e-mail from your iPhone while on the go, and tons of simple text notes.

Evernote Premium accounts, on the other hand, offer a few advantages for either $5 per month or $45 for a year of service. For starters, Libin told us that premium users will have a much higher 500MB monthly quota, which will increase over time. Premium members also get SSL access for all client communication, including web apps, as well as first-in-line access for Evernote's unique image recognition service that can pick out text in images and make it searchable. Last but not least, premium members also get technical support and other planned features down the road.

Not quite ready to be my #1

There are plenty of positives, I’ve got quibbles that might just prevent Evernote from being what it clearly wants to be: my everything / all-the-time notebook.

My problems are mostly with the web-based app. First, unlike every other Web-based notebook I’ve seen, Evernote’s text editing options are pretty limited. No bold or italic text. No bulleted or ordered lists. No colored text or highlighters. None of the keyboard short cuts work on the web, and the web interface forces you to click “edit” before you can start typing. Finally, the Firefox plug-in works only for the desktop, and the bookmarklet is limited in it’s functionality. I don’t expect every feature to be available on the Web. But since most of my notes are text, and I can’t install the desktop app at work, the hobbled web app is a pretty big hang-up for me.

Other problems are present in both the Web and desktop versions. For example, unlike Google Notebook, you can’t simply add a tag by typing next to other tags. You have to drag an existing tag onto the note (or vice-versa). The desktop app does let you add tags via a keyboard short cut (ctrl + shift + T). And one minor complaint: the image search is outstanding, but why can’t I copy text from images the way I can in OneNote?

Not perfect, but still awesome

Truthfully all my complaints are minor and will probably be addressed in future updates. These compromises were probably deliberate, and Evernote’s dev team must have these shortcomings on their to-do list. For now, this beta release is most impressive launch I’ve ever seen.

I had used Evernote’s desktop client in 2006 when I was a legal intern and didn’t have OneNote. I found Evernote to be an adequate replacement, but I missed OneNote’s tabbed interface and keyboard shortcuts. Here’s what Evernote looked like then.

image

Here’s what it looks like now (on Mac, via Ars):

image

They’ve come an ever long way.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Notemarking: A definition

CloudNotes is “a blog about notetaking and bookmarking on the web, or notemarking.” But what the hell does that mean? Well, with a week’s worth of posts under my belt already, it’s time to take a stab at defining the term I’m attempting to coin. In the process, I’ll be defining the scope of this blog.

Defining a blog’s scope is a vitally important early step. It will help me avoid covering every damn thing TechCrunch and Mashable throw out there. I’ll be limiting the work I create for myself, and my readers (should I have any) will know what to expect from me. Much as Louis Gray focuses on RSS readers and feedsharing, I plan to focus on notetaking and bookmarking applications. But unlike Gray, I live in Houston, TX — not Silicon Valley. So I won’t concentrate on unearthing new services as an industry insider might do. Instead, I will use my unique perspective as a lawyer and former e-learning designer to blog about my own experiences using notemarking applications.

There’s that word again. Here’s what it means:

The use of software, either client- or web-based, to store, organize, search, manage, and potentially share or synchronize information, including—but not limited to—Web content and hyperlinks.

While that’s soaking in, let me say that this is my first time defining a word from scratch. I am open to refining the definition as we go along. Indeed, I am not a Web expert; I am a Web user. I explicitly invite you, the reader, to be a collaborator in this adventure.

That said, let me tell you what I like about this definition: it’s short.

But even better than that, I hope it avoids some of the assumptions I wanted to confront with this blog:

  • A notemarking tool does not have to be Web-based, but as the name CloudNotes suggests, it should include some collaboration or synchronization functions. There should be a way for users to access their information from more than one computer, but…
  • I use the phrase “potentially share or synchronize” with the following limiting principle in mind: any exposure of a user’s saved/stored information should occur ONLY at the user’s option. I think this eliminates blogs and wikis as well as link submission sites (e.g., Digg, Mixx) and life streaming services (e.g., FriendFeed, SocialThing) that are, by definition or purpose, open to the larger Web. The granularity of privacy options is up for debate, but total privacy must be a possibility.
  • Searching is necessary, tagging is not. Although tags are seemingly ubiquitous in social media, I think the more appropriate requirement is simply the ability to find your recorded information when you need it.
  • Finally, in case it’s not clear, any Notemarking application must include all the listed functions. Merely offering integration with a notemarking application’s API will not cut it. Exporting to Del.icio.us is not being Del.icio.us.
image

imageNotemarking is about allowing the user to record and retrieve information while choosing to collaborate or publish selected parts of the collection. I’ll use an iconic example. This is the “do not share” box from the Delicious tagging UI. If you wanted, you could privately save all your bookmarks; no one would ever see them. But the default is to share them with the community. Either way, you can use the Delicious Bookmarks plug-in to add, manage, retrieve, and sync your bookmarks across machines.

That is notemarking.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A tale of two highlighters

The idea of highlighting important parts of a Web page and sharing the annotated pages with friends is a good one. So good that lots of start-ups have tried it.

None of them have captured a particularly wide audience. But that’s not deterring two relatively recent startups: The Awesome Highlighter and Markkit. Both products take a new tack in the highlighting wars: they stick to highlighting and avoid grafting a clunky social network or bookmarking service onto their application (e.g., Clipmarks, Diigo).

The Awesome Highlighter is profiled in a Techcrunch piece today (mysteriously written by one “Guest Author”). In the comments to that piece, an “annoyed” anonymous commenter complains:

This looks like a copy of http://markkit.net/ which was launched several months ago. Looks like this will get exposure and be successful due to a TC plug.

Nic Cubrilovic, a TechCrunch blogger, quickly responded:

markkit actually seems like it is implemented a lot better, I can’t get awesome highliter to work on any sites that requrie a login (nytimes, wsj etc.)

I’ve given them both a try this morning, and I’d tend to disagree with Nic. In overall polish and functionality, Awesome Highlighter beats Markkit pretty handily.

First, Markkit does what it sets to do, but it doesn’t do much. Add their bookmarklet to your bookmarks bar, then highlight your text.

image

Your rather plain shared page is then available via an awfully unruly URL and no RSS feed. There’s no option to add sticky notes at all.

image

Now compare that with Awesome Highlighter. Use either the Firefox add-on or a bookmarklet to highlight the page and ad sticky notes.

image

Using the toolbar you can change the color of your highlighter and share with a number of different services, including Del.icio.us, Tumblr, LiveJournal, and Facebook.

image

Your highlighted page is shared to slim URL (http://awurl.com/pvnwiv96461), and you can view all your highlights on a page that includes an RSS feed.

image

That’s a much more robust feature set than what Markitt offers. Unfortunately, in my tests with Awesome Highlighter, I coudn’t get the sticky notes to show up (even on sites that didn’t require a log-in). I’m not sure whether that’s a flaw in the app or a problem with my NoScript add-on. But given the overall sophistication of the site, I’d expect the Awesome Highlighter folks to iron out the kinks. I’m cautiously impressed with what it could be.

Personally, I like the idea of a stand-alone highlighter / sticky-note service that’s compatible with my existing bookmarking service (Del.icio.us). But it’s worth asking the question: why do I even need a highlighter? I can already bookmark a site, quote text, and share it with either Del.icio.us or Tumblr. And what about tools like Scrapbook, that provide robust archiving and highlighting functions but have no social functions? I use all these tools regularly, and I’ve not ever missed having a social annotation tool.

Maybe if Awesome Highlighter can figure things out, I’ll discover a need for marking up Web pages. Until then, I continue my search for the perfect NoteMarking tool.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Google Web History: This will be on your video tape

Steve Rubel hardly ever posts on his blog anymore. Too much friction. He likes to capture his thoughts and web trails via his lifestreaming activity, without having to stop and think about form and process.

But today he did post, and what he says is interesting. He offers three quick tips for capturing notes quickly. It’s his first idea that piqued my interest:

Google offers a handy history feature that archives all of your searches by date and time. You need to have a Google account and activate it. Once you do, the search engine will remember every search and search result you clicked. You can star items and even subscribe to either your history or these bookmarks as a feed.

If I am on phone with someone and I have an idea I want to capture real quick, I go to the search box in my browser (which is always open), type in my quick note and search. Now it's archived in my history, which I can always go back and search later.

I confess I’d never thought to actually take notes using the search bar, but it leads to a crucial insight. If you’ve got Google Web History tracking your every move (you have to opt-in to something that Orwellian) then you’ve got something very close to a constant Web diary. And because it’s Google, you can quickly search through that history and find exactly what you’re looking for.

imageI knew I’d had GWH enabled for a long time, but I used a button near the bottom of the screen to find out just how long ago. Turns out, I began spying on myself November 6, 2005. For nearly 3 years then, I’ve had Google tracking most of my online life. For most of that time, I’ve been blissfully unaware. But occasionally, I’ll visit my history to find something I’d forgotten. I usually just do a search and find it. Then I’m quickly one my way.

But thanks to Steve, I’m taking a closer look at one of Google’s most low-profile products. And it’s amazing. I’ll take you on a tour. Left to right.

image

First, you’re not limited to a simple search box. You can browse and filter your history, based on what you searched for. There is one critical difference once you start drilling down. Your history will capture every Web page you visit, but clicking on Images, News, Products, and Maps will only show you the items you searched for within Google.

image

You can even review the sponsored links you click on. I always think “Who clicks on those things?” Apparently, I do.

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As Steve pointed out, you can also bookmark what you find. Now, I’ve never been a fan of Google Bookmarks, but this is more useful than at first it might appear because you can set Google Toolbar to display bookmarks by either alphabetical or chronological order. Choosing the latter option means it’s easy to keep your most recent forays into GWH within easy reach.

image

Finally, the Calendar on the right hand side provides a convenient visualization of your monthly search and Web activity. It’s self-explanatory, but that’s part of the genius.

Will I use GWH to take notes as Steve suggests? Nope. Like any camera tracking my life, It’s much more valuable to me as a data source if I forget that it’s there.

Zoho Notebook, revisited

When I was still in Law School, Zoho Notebook was released, and I was incredibly excited. The screenshots I had seen closely resembled OneNote’s interface of multi-colored, tabbed pages. But Zoho was web based, and was supposedly optimized for rich media content like videos and sound input. It even had Skype integration.

image But when I finally got a hold of it, I was very disappointed. I didn’t use it for more than an hour, and I went back quickly to OneNote. Why? Well, that’s the thing. I couldn’t quite remember until I decided to give it another chance this morning. The verdict: I still hate it.

First, the media richness comes as advertised. You can insert and save videos, audio, RSS feeds, HTML and files from the outsanding Zoho Office Suite (i.e., Writer, Sheets). You can run an entire Web page from within one window on Zoho. It’s impressive. Unfortunately, the awesomeness stops there because Zoho doesn’t work well as a conventional web-based notebook. For a notebook to succeed (any notebook), there can’t be layers of friction and process between when I decide to note something, and when I put it in my notebook. Zoho is full of friction.

It’s the little things

  • Can’t quickly copy and paste items. I have to double-click to create a window before creating text. If I want to cut and paste an image, I have to double click within a window.
  • To scroll down in a page, you’re limited to a slider on the right side of the interface or your up and down arrows. Occasionally, Zoho responded to the mouse wheel, but these bouts of functionality are unpredictable.
  • Functions like control-V and control Z don’t work as expected. For example, to paste something, you must first click, then press control V. If you want to undo, you can press control-Z, but what happens from there is a guess. Once, text I had just pasted remained, while a photo I pasted five-minutes ago disappeared. Z-spooky.

To reduce this friction, Zoho does have a Firefox add-on, but it’s not as nice as the Google Notebook add-on, because you have to have a Zoho Notebook tab open in order to import your text and images. That doesn’t sound too onerous, but walk through the steps. 1) Decide you want to save something. 2) Open Zoho in another tab. 3) Highlight and right click to save to Zoho. With Google Notebook, Evernote, and OneNote (in Internet Explorer) you don’t even have to leave the page.

It’s the big things, too

Ultimately, what makes Zoho unusable as a notebook isn’t its quirks or added friction. I think these problems would be reduced once you become accustomed to the interface. No, what KILLS Zoho is the shocking lack of a search function or tags that might allow you to find your notes later. In a notebook, that’s simply not up for debate. You have to be able to quickly retrieve what you’ve deposited. Zoho fails here by offering neither tags nor search.

Zoho, of course, could be an excellent collaboration space. With its media richness and Skype integration, I’m sure lots of people are using it this way. But not me. I’m looking for a notebook.

Friday, June 20, 2008

What’s wrong with Del.icio.us? Nothing. Really.

Julian Baldwin wrote a brief piece today in which he faulted Del.icio.us for a failure its innovate and announced he would be looking for something new.

After using the social bookmarking service for several weeks, I’ve realized the concept is excellent but someone other than Yahoo! will need to carry innovation forward in this market.

How does such a flexible service like del.icio.us go wrong? For starters, there are skeptics who question if tagging and social bookmarking is really worth the trouble for tracking your own information in the first place. Secondly, del.icio.us failed to release version 2.0 after nine months of anticipation, which prints the bold statement - we’re not leaders in this space - across their homepage. As users continue to wait, the likelihood of seeing updates soon is severly impaired by Joshua Schachter’s decision to resign from Yahoo!

It’s true, of course, that Del.icio.us is way, way late in releasing its highly anticipated 2.0 update and its visionary founder is headed out the door. But isn’t there more than just a “concept” here?

We’re talking about the market leader in social bookmarking. A site with more users and more saved bookmarks than all its competitors put together. It’s the only conventional bookmarking service that Facebook chose to include in launching its feed import feature (I don’t view StumbleUpon as a conventional social bookmarking site because it doesn’t resemble Del.icio.us clones like Furl, Mister Wong, Simpy and Blinklist). Importantly, Del.icio.us boasts the most sophisticated browser extension available for any social bookmarking service. It syncs your bookmarks across computers, makes them conveniently accessible (and fully searchable) within the browser, and keeps up with the sites you visit most. The brand new version works in both Firefox 3 and IE 7.

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Baldwin recommends that Del.icio.us users who care about bookmarking look to one of its competitors. But they don’t measure up very well. Sure, some of them have features that Del.icio.us lacks (e.g., screen captures, categories, groups); a lot of things I’d admittedly like to see in Delicious 2.0. But as I grew impatient for the update, I’ve tried out the other services and found them wanting.

image The best of them is Diigo, which has a ton of interesting features, including shared annotations (intriguing, I admit). But its toolbar doesn’t work with with Firefox 3 and the search feature in IE is slow and can search only by tag. Sure I’d like to see some of Diigo’s outstanding social features in Del.icio.us, but what I really need is superb integration with Firefox. Until someone can match Del.icio.us where it counts, they’re not going to lure me away.

Am I tired of waiting for new features? Hells yes. But there’s no where else to turn right now. And I’m not alone in thinking so. Remember: since the beginning, Del.icio.us has made it easy as pie to automatically transfer all your bookmarks to any new service you might find. And since there’s not a strong social presence on Del.icio.us, switching costs are essentially zero. And yet, no other service has gained significant market share. Why? because they aren’t as good.

Believe me, I’ve tried most of them. If there’s a failure to innovate, well, everyone’s failing.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

MindJet offers premium web-based mind-mapper

I used MindJet’s desktop application my last year of law school to map out a lengthy paper. I was impressed at how well it helped me visualize the relationships between my ideas in less linear fashion than OneNote’s workman-like bulleted lists. I’ve since become a fan of MindMeister’s free, web-based clone, using it to map out an org chart and a procedure document.

Today, Web Worker Daily reviewed MindJet’s new Web based edition:

The mind map editing interface itself works well and smoothly, and allows simultaneous editing by multiple users. One nice feature is automatic notifications; if someone edits a node that’s open on your screen, you’ll see a little tip with that information. You can also hover over any node to see who created it and who last modified it. In addition to attractively-styled topics and subtopics, MindManager Web supports callouts, attachments, hyperlinks, images, and notes; it has a respectable subset of the capabilities of the desktop versions (though it lacks many of the advanced features of the desktop client). Unfortunately you cannot export or print mind maps from the web interface, which limits its utility if you’re not completely committed to online use.

Mindjet is also promoting chat and instant meeting functionality in connect, but they’re not available in the current MindManager Web release, so I didn’t try them. The pricing for the product is tiered, starting at $8.99 per user per month for Mindjet Connect Standard (with the web client, workspaces, map editing, and chat) and moving up to $22.49 per user per month for Mindjet Connect Pro (which includes integration with Microsoft products, instant meetings, offline mapping, and version control).

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It sure is pretty, but I’m skeptical whether all that shiny functionality is worth the relatively high price. Mindmeister, by way of comparison, offers users a free basic version that includes exporting to PDF and print capabilities. Who needs a flash GUI when the simple AJAX version is actually portable?

Frankly, I’m not sure what’s so difficult about mind-maps that the basic functionality couldn’t be included in OneNote or Evernote. Most mind-maps are just nested bulleted or tabbed lists in graphic form. Seems like a sophisticated note-taking app would let you switch between modes, depending upon which structure suited your subject. One new web app, Text2MindMap, is built entirely on that premise. Sadly the transfer is only one way (as the name implies).

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Read it Later!

image I’ve just installed a new Firefox add-on called Read it Later that looks to be a more robust version of the dead simple bookmarking service Instapaper. As with Instapaper, the idea is to use the service to quickly bookmark a Web site for later reading. The recently updated add-on boasts a ton of interesting features:

  • Save pages to a reading list to read when you have time
  • Offline Reading Mode - Read the items you’ve saved for later on the plane, train, or anywhere
  • RSS Feeds - View your list from anywhere with automatic rss feeds of your items
  • Sync Between Computers - Sync your reading list with any number of computers, work or home
  • After reading, bookmark pages on your preferred bookmarking service
  • Click to Save Mode - Quickly batch a reading list just by clicking on interesting links

What intrigued me most is the promise of tight integration with Firefox.

Read It Later’s interface tightly integrates with Firefox 3’s new bookmarking system. Along side the ‘one-click bookmark’ star on the Firefox location bar, Read It Later shows up as a simple checkmark. Click to instantly save the current page to your list, click it again to mark it as read.

Power users will find that clicking the star next to the red checkmark allows you to use Firefox 3’s tagging system to tag the items in your Reading List. These tags can be used to filter your reading list for quick searching and organization.

You can pull up your reading list by clicking the down arrow on the main Read It Later button. From here you can flip through your entire list to find something to read. To help find something specific you can sort your list by date added, site, and title. If you need to do some cleaning up, you can easily mass mark items as read by unchecking them from your list.

It sounds awfully impressive. Also, the ability to maintain multiple reading list (e.g., one for work, one for home) and sync them both to a third computer…well that could be supremely useful.

I’ve not really put the site through its paces yet, but I’m excited to give it a go.

A statement of purpose

I’m not happy.

Today there are hundreds of options for taking notes and saving bookmarks and otherwise stashing away snippets of knowledge for storage on our computers and on the Web. Many of these options are mature applications that offer loads of impressive features required by today’s discriminating knowledge workers (KWs). Indeed, as a lawyer and healthcare compliance analyst, I am a devoted user of several popular notetaking and bookmarking—or notemarking—platforms.

The problem is that none of them are quite capable of doing everything I might want/need them to do. To get all the help I need, I’ve got to use several different applications:

  • OneNote. Yes, OneNote is a desktop app that’s now included with Microsoft Office 2007. But for sheer notemarking muscle and versatility, there’s not much that comes close. Its Achilles heel is the lack of Web integration. Sure you can sync your OneNote notebooks across computers, but it’s not easy (I use Microsoft’s Mesh). Also, its search function is abysmal and it lacks the tagging capabilities that come standard in modern notemarking apps. Nevertheless, due to the relative security of the desktop, this is what I use at work.
  • Google Notebook / Google Bookmarks. Google’s ad hoc suite lacks much of the elegance seen in prominent competitors like Evernote and Zoho Notebook (a web-based OneNote look-alike). But together these services come closest to the platonic ideal of an integrated notemarking application. If I bookmark something in Google Bookmarks, it shows up in Google Notebook. And I can use Google Notebook as a web-based, albeit feature-poor substitute for OneNote. That’s notetaking and bookmarking in one! Sharing is easy; searching is fast and satisfying. Unfortunately, the clumsy integration between the two services is its downfall. There’s no denying that a dedicated notetaking service is better for notetaking, and a dedicated bookmarking service is better for bookmarks. I use them both occasionally, because I’m an admitted Google fanboy.
  • Del.icio.us. This is my chief bookmarking application. It’s one of the first I tried, and thanks to the powerful Delicious Bookmarks add-on (now compatible with Firefox 3), it’s remained my favorite application. Yes, Diigo is a popular alternative that has some compelling social features and a nifty annotation engine. But the Diigo plug-in isn’t compatible with Firefox, and its Windows-compatible toolbar isn’t as fast or as powerful as the Delicious Firefox add-on. One frequent criticism of Del.icio.us is that it doesn’t store copies of site pages or even thumbnails (like Ma.gnolia). Meh, for that I use…
  • Scrapbook. A simple but powerful Firefox add-on. Can store a bookmark or an entire Web site in a familiar, searchable hierarchy of folders. You can save any page exactly as it appears. And once it’s saved, small set of powerful editing and annotation features are at your disposal. This would be a GREAT all-in-one solution, but it lacks a web-based component that could enable syncing or sharing. Export/import is available, but that just doesn’t cut it.
  • Shareaholic. Another Firefox add-on. This useful plug-in incorporates bookmarklets from several social/sharing sites around the Web into one convenient interface that doesn’t take up a lot of real-estate. I use it to post links to my Tumblr blog, FriendFeed, Del.icio.us, Twitter, and Facebook. When I’m ready to share a Web site with pals, I want it be a fast, hassle-free process. Shareaholic fits the bill.
  • Remember the Milk. A to-do list is just a specialized noteboook, right? For those people dedicated to paper and pen, it all ends up in the same Moleskine. The same is often true of Web-based notebooks. But as much as I’d like to use an integrated app, I use Remember the Milk as my to-do list. It’s got more features than any Web-based to-do list I’ve seen, and it can go offline, too (thanks to Google’s Gears). The killer feature is RTM’s integration with G-mail via this Firefox add-on. RTM also plays nice with Google Calendar. At work, I use the inferior combination offered in Outlook. *sigh*
  • Plaxo. I use Plaxo to sync my contacts and calendar with all my computers and my phone (via Exchange). It also works with Google Calendar. Essential.

That’s a lot of information and functionality all scattered around Babylon-style, and I’d like to see more of it gathered in one place. My perfect notemarking application would be an integrated solution that I could access both online and off. It would have both fast searching and tagging capabilities. It would include some social / sharing features, but with privacy controls that were powerful enough to make it useful at work. It would include some near-frictionless method of adding notes & bookmarks from the Web browser like Delicious Bookmarks or the widely praised Tumblr Bookmark.

Finally, and most importantly, I want to be able to access everything regardless of where I am or what software I have installed on my computer. All that information has to by synced-up and ready to exploit.

Is that too much to ask? Maybe. But that’s what this blog is all about.